Ambivalent Zen


An excellent, entertaining and, dare I say, enlightening memoir by Lawrence Shainberg that I've been meaning to read since it came out in 1995. Took me so long to get around to it because Zen and its philosophy—its contradictions, like "perfect imperfection," maybe, but not maybe, maybe—stuff like that, twist up my mind and confound way worse than this sentence likely does for you. Had I read the book when it came out, I would've long ago realized I'm not alone. Though while I've barely scratched the surface of Zen, Shainberg went in deep and in Ambivalent Zen recounts his spiritual pursuits over decades, his endless effort to sit zazen correctly, with the perfect posture, and his experience with the rōshi Kyudo Nakagawa, who led the Soho Zen Buddhist Society in Manhattan. He covers a lot of other ground as well, family relationships, the business of Zen, history of Buddhism... We see him balancing his frustrations and ambitions, and these colliding too, which Shainberg describes for us with a masterful mix of wit and wisdom. A great book to read again.


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